What comes next for Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers?

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Does Russell Westbrook want to run it back with the Lakers next season?

“Yeah, that’s the plan, but nothing is promised,” Westbrook said this week when asked if he wanted to return to the Lakers next season.

Westbrook might be the only person who thinks he will be back in Forum blue and gold next year. However, how a potential exit of Westbrook from the Lakers happens is a matter of speculation and talk around the league — there are no easy answers for Rob Pelinka here. The Lakers GM will be back but is tasked with cleaning up this mess. His seat will be warm next season if he doesn’t.

The ideal scenario would be to trade Westbrook and get players of some value back. Along those lines, Marc Stein threw out something interesting in his latest newsletter/Substack release — talk of a possible trade with Charlotte.

…one scenario making the rounds is a belief that the Hornets could emerge with Westbrook interest in the name of creating some financial flexibility.

Gordon Hayward has two seasons left on a four-year, $120 million contract and has appeared in only 49 of Charlotte’s 79 games this season. Terry Rozier has performed well this season, with an above-average PER of 17.36, but next season is Year 1 of a four-year, $97 million extension. With the Hornets facing the onrushing expense of signing Miles Bridges to a lucrative contract extension this offseason, followed by the eventual prospect of a max extension for Ball, combining one of their long-term deals with the final season on Kelly Oubre Jr.‘s two-year, $24.5 million pact, as an example, could function as a workable trade framework.

The speculation is the Hornets would be willing to trade for Westbrook (and likely buy him out) to get off longer-term money, allowing them to pay Ball and Bridges down the line. Russell Westbrook is a Jordan Brand shoe guy, and Jordan both owns the Hornets and reportedly is a Westbrook fan. The Lakers get either Hayward — who has played just over half his team’s games the past two seasons — or Rozier, who averaged 19.2 points and 4.4 assists a night, shooting 37.5% from 3, he’s been a quality scorer when healthy. He’s also got a fully guaranteed three years making more than $21 million a season after this one.

The most logical trade remains one for Houston’s John Wall, which was discussed at the trade deadline. It didn’t come together then because the Rockets demanded the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick for a swap of bad contracts and past-their-prime players, and the Lakers wisely decided to hold on to that pick. If the Rockets lower their asking price, maybe the sides can find a deal.

The outcome I have heard the most from sources around the league involves no trade: The Lakers waive and stretch Westbrook. It still leaves about $15.7 million on the Lakers’ cap for three years, but in the short term the move takes the Lakers out of the luxury tax and gives them a little — not much, but a little — more room to maneuver and sign players. Most teams could not consider this option, that would be too big an anchor on the books, but the Lakers generate a lot of cash and can go into the tax, so it hurts them a little less.

Maybe another, unexpected trade scenario pops up. One way or another, it would be shocking to see Westbrook back with the Lakers next season. He’s become the scapegoat for problems that he contributed to but were also much bigger than just him. Lakers’ nation is ready to move on.